WWJD? and Ego-Centric Bias

I am in the advice-giving business. At least I am when I am worn down from 8 hours of listening and I want to have a five-minute private audience for my thoughts and opinions.

I have discovered that most people are pretty bad at taking advice from me and probably from others as well. My client-friends don’t mind listening to my stories, smile at my jokes, engage some of my ideas, but they mostly glaze over when I get into my advice-giving mode. And I don’t really think that they will do much with the pearls once I have tossed them in their general direction.

Psychologists call this “egocentric bias,” that is, people generally figure that they can operate their lives best with their own hard-learned advice. I get this. I have people offering me advice all the time and mostly I ignore it. (Carole has been advising me for 40 years what vitamins and medicines I should take when I have a cold.) Still I carry on dispensing my treasured wisdom, knowing it will probably not be invested with the kind of thoroughness I think it should.

This egocentric bias happens everywhere: doctor’s offices, weight loss centres, guidance classes in high schools, used car dealerships, Starbucks (“you ought to try the …”). So, when someone turns to you and says, “What do you think I should do?” or “Do you think I should marry Jeff?” they actually don’t care much about your advice. They are probably just structuring the passing of time or looking for confirmation of what they already want to do.

I think I am okay with people, including my client-friends, ignoring my advice (“So, what did you get out of that homework I recommended from our last meeting?”). But sometimes my ideas are really great. So then why don’t I take my own advice more often?

One question works for me in advice-taking. WWJD: “What would _______ (Jesus) do?” (Fill in the blank with whomever you like?)

That question makes me receptive to advice and puts me in a mind space to not quickly resist the wisdom of others. It shifts my reactivity. Sometimes I say in my mind, “What would Mom do?” since I would really love to know (she died much too young). I sometimes put in the names of others that I admire or are mentors to me. Sometimes I put in the names of my kids, as in “What would David do?” or “What would Christine do?” If it has anything to do with computers or technology I ask, “What would Brent do?” He’s my son-in-law and is brilliant in ways I am ignorant. Somehow this “identifying question” makes advice palatable and makes me think outside of my egocentric bias.

This kind of identifying with someone helps me make decisions. I become part of a community of thorough opinions and applicable wisdom. I get to share in collected brilliance rather than thoughtlessly “dis” it. Amazing what an identifying question can do.

The idea of identifying questions is that if we can make a personal connection with someone we admire, then we can take the advice and apply the wisdom. If we are told what is right and good without having that personal identification, then we are more likely to reject it, forget it and not benefit from it.

Fiddling with the State of Being

I grew up in a home where alcohol ingestion was done compulsively. I discovered as a child that the drinking compulsion is an equal opportunity phenomenon – both my Mom and Dad were serious imbibers. I also learned that my parents and their friends formed an alcohol-conscious community where successful parties were granted the status of “great” by the quantity imbibed and the consequent sexualization of intimacies.

My parents were trained in drinking by the Canadian Forces during WW2 when service men and women had their pleasures subsidized by the government. I am reminded of this each and every November 11th and sometimes I stop to tell the “poppy people” why I am not buying their red and black lapel flowers while I stride righteously into the liquor store.

Over the years I have had lots of addicts of various sorts in my practice. I prefer to call them “obsessive fiddlers with states of being” – it sounds less prejudicial than “addicts” though that is what some of them are. These fine folk and friends have been compulsed by all sorts of obsessions: being happy, being right, being perfect, being taken care of, being in love, being admired, and the list goes on. (Perhaps making lists is a compulsion too?) And then they act these ideas out with predictable behaviours: drinking and drugging are common but so is arguing and defending and mean-spirited criticism. I especially dislike it when addicts pretend the moral high ground (e.g. “You are a bad person and I am busy being good or right,” or “I wouldn’t drink if you didn’t criticize me so much.”).

I often hear of sexual addictions as well. These are usually requests for affirmation and attention where the behaviours involve a moving computer image and a few square inches of genital flesh. What these folk want most often is some ordinary passion and some affection directed in their way. At least that is what heals them (mostly men) more than “Just Say No” mouse pads.

Now… I think that there are factors that may increase risk of some kind of addiction. Here are a few for you to consider and I am thinking especially of online compulsions:

♦  Fear of relationships can lead to online compulsions. I mean real relationships not surface social contacts. And a consequential lack of other interests and social isolation – this can lead to compulsive behaviour.
♦  Pre-existing abuse or addiction can easily transfer: for example, online gambling or gaming, cybersex, or online shopping.
♦  Social anxiety or nervousness can make online interactions a very attractive alternative to face-to-face interaction and thus much more compelling.
♦  Low self-esteem, poor body image, or untreated sexual dysfunction can add to obsessions and compulsions.

What fixes this more than anything else is a little reality and a little thoughtfulness. Person-to-person honesty and care, also called empathy, works well. I have found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is really good in breaking the power of addictions and compulsions. I recommend people buy “Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky. It is best to work this through with a therapist and I have a copy in my office so that if you choose we can work through the harder parts together.

Baptist Handshake — About Boundaries

I always thought I had a pretty good handshake. A simple forward thrust and vertical pump is what I was taught by my Dad who told me “a good man has a good handshake.”

I met a pastor with a “Baptist handshake” (I know that this is an unfair caricature) where my welcoming hand was twisted sideways and horizontally mowed like a handsaw, all the while the boney back of my surprised pod was pressed by his aggressive thumb.

I reminded myself to wave at him in the future and I avoid pleasantries with him whenever possible. I remember the handshake and the bruising.

Handshaking is about boundaries really – who is in charge of your life and in this case my hand. I don’t like feeling trapped in a coercive handshake but I love to be welcomed by an open hand. I don’t like the dominance factor: “my handshake is more manly than yours.” Handshakes are not for competition but for camaraderie.

Handshakes are also for mutuality, a greeting of equals. It serves as a personal acknowledgement and perhaps as an expression of early affection. Vulnerability is implied in a way in which a “high 5” does not. It allows for eye contact, some greeting or departing conversation, a time to signal a connection that could turn into a friendship.

Boundaries are hard to set and even harder to explain. Try telling your spouse or parent or boss that their intensity is pressuring to you and that sometimes even the bonhomie bruises.

Page 7 of 7« First...34567